There is a problem in Pueblo that, were he alive today, Shakespeare might be moved to replace ‘Denmark’ with the name of southern Colorado’s largest city. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, something is not right,” could easily be an honest evaluation of a problem Pueblo is wrestling with.
The city and county are fighting a scourge of illegal dumping and not just in discreet locations but almost anywhere people decide to lighten their load of old mattresses, bald tires, appliances---even dead animals and anything else whose shelf life is expired.
“It hurts economic development,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz. No one, he said, wants to move to a city where unsightly mounds of trash are allowed to collect, including along many of the town’s well-traveled corridors, like along I-25, the city’s busiest thoroughfare.
To combat this problem, the city and county have formed a trash task force made up of one county commissioner, one city council member, a member of the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, a trash hauling business and trash collectors. They’ve also hired a full-time worker to visit places where drive-by dumping occurs.
In addition to making on-site visits to places where trash has piled up, the task force’s Ryan Tessman also works across the community answering questions as well as offering suggestions on what residents can do.
Tessman will collect data on where the illegal dumping is occurring, and catalogue items being dumped. But the problem goes well beyond simple eyesores. Illegal dumping, said the city and county’s solid waste watchdog, also contributes to “the infestation of rodents, insects, or other pests, which carry disease.” There are also hazardous chemicals in these heaps, including potentially carcinogenic items like asbestos and industrial solvents. It’s also a potentially long-term problem for land and water.
One of first things the task force has done is purchase cameras that will monitor locations where the problem has festered, said Ortiz. “They will provide evidence” for potential prosecution by the district attorney. The dozen cameras will also not be static but moved around to various locations when new dump sites crop up.
The city-county taskforce is serious about enforcement, serious enough to painstakingly have personnel go through these mounds of trash searching for names and addresses, personal information they might find on envelopes or paperwork and track these individuals down.
One motivation for illegal dumping---and not just in Pueblo County---is unloading trash on roadsides or other unauthorized sites is a means of avoiding fees that would normally be paid at the municipal landfill. But the savings from off-loading trash illegally might be negated if the perpetrator is caught. A conviction comes with pocketbook consequences and more. “The fine for someone caught dumping can be as high as $1,000,” said Tessman. For extreme cases, the statute includes up to a year in jail.
The taskforce has counted 50 sites where trash has piled up. Many are along routes used for hiking or taking simple walks. In some instances, the problem has grown to the point where people who want to be outside have become frustrated, found new and cleaner places to walk or abandoned their routines.
The 29-year-old Ortiz is a is a Pueblo native who takes great pride in his hometown. He doesn’t want to see it blemished by a problem that can but, so far, has not been solved. He said he was moved to start the taskforce after seeing a Facebook posting showing images of one particular dump site. “There were a lot of volunteers and organizations that went out and picked up the trash.” When they were done, they posted pictures of their work thinking they’d solved the problem. “Two days later people went and dumped in the very same spot.”
There is an economic cost to this problem, said Ortiz. That is born out by the city and county responding to it by hiring a full-time inspector and dedicating resources---personnel---to cleaning things up. But there is another problem, as well. If the city does not get the upper hand on dealing with the illegal dumping and those who routinely toss their trash wherever and whenever they choose, the city’s and county’s reputation and image will take a hit. And that will require more work in order to clean things up, as well.
The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment urges residents who want information about solid waste disposal of recyclable items or to purchase vouchers for large item disposal to call Pueblo RecycleWorks at 719.583.2748. They can also call the Recycling Information Hotline at 719.583.4924. For more information visit www.pueblohealth.org.